KF Seetoh, MOH & NEA cross swords over raising dine-in cap at hawker centres

"This is not about discounts or the occupancy, it's about survival," said Seetoh.

Siti Hawa | August 28, 2021, 05:42 PM

Makansutra founder KF Seetoh has engaged in a clash of words with the Ministry of Health (MOH) and National Environment Agency (NEA) over the two pax dine-in rule at hawker centres and coffee shops over the past week.

In a Facebook post on Aug. 26, the food critic said that it was ironic that the two pax dine-in rule applies to hawker centres and coffee shops even though indoor air-conditioned food courts are allowed to accommodate five pax dine-in.

He claimed that the two pax dine-in rule at these premises result in the loss of jobs, stall closures and loss of opportunity to earn money to pay bills.

Seetoh also said that he knew of 150 hawkers who called it quits last year and receives information about closures "almost daily".

"Impractical" to raise dine-in cap: MOH and NEA

In response, MOH and NEA explained that it is "impractical" to raise the dine-in cap to five vaccinated persons for hawker centres and coffee shops due to its open and porous nature, reported The Straits Times.

Currently, hawker centers and coffee shops have a mixture of dine-in and takeaway customers and allow up to two persons to dine in without being vaccinated.

MOH and NEA also explained that vaccination status checks "will add to the burden of already struggling operators and stallholders".

The authorities also said that the Multi-ministry Taskforce (MTF) decided to allow dining in for two at hawker centres and coffee shops as a concession.

For instance, other food and beverage outlets that are unable to check patrons' vaccination status cannot have dine-in customers.

According to The Straits Times, the aim of the concession is to help hawkers and stallholders, while limiting the spread of the virus.

Various support for hawkers are also in place such as the Market and Hawker Centre Relief Fund, rental waivers, subsidies and funding support for hawkers who sign up to online delivery platforms.

MOH and NEA also pointed out that the occupancy rate for cooked food stalls in centres managed by NEA remained high, at around 97 per cent.

Seetoh's response to MOH and NEA

On Aug. 28, Seetoh published another post on Facebook in response to MOH and NEA.

In the post, he thanked the authorities for their response but reiterated that due to the current rules, fully vaccinated families with "limited budgets" are not able to eat out together at a hawker centre.

Seetoh also said that although hawkers are receiving temporary waivers and other support measures, he emphasised that "this is not about discounts or the occupancy, it's about survival."

In addition, he pointed out that both unvaccinated and vaccinated individuals are able to enter malls, which poses a risk to vaccinated diners in restaurants:

"You mentioned the porous nature of hawker centres, yet allow all vaccinated status (or not) folks into malls and even bus interchange (fully masked too) and yet, now, we have worrying clusters in Bugis Junction where the asymptomatic can infect diners, even before they enter the five-vaxxed-people-limit restaurants inside. There’s also the bus terminal cluster. They are all porous too."

According to Seetoh, the two pax dine-in rule in hawker centres and five pax dine-in rule in restaurants "do not make sense" and causes "a lot of hardships".

Seetoh also criticised the lack of clear plans to introduce five pax or eight pax dine-in at hawker centres in the future.

Segregating vaccinated and unvaccinated diners

He suggested training "the thousands of social distance officers" to verify the vaccination status of diners instead of hawkers who are "old" and "back bent".

In addition, Seetoh said that separate dining areas to allow five pax or eight pax dine-in for vaccinated diners, and two pax dine-in for unvaccinated diners at hawker centres could be implemented:

" I suggest, segregating vaccinated diners (tables) at the hawkers for five or eight, from the non vaccinated ones (two a table), with enough space between them."

He ended the post by reminding readers that based on an online poll conducted by marketing research firm OnePoll, the top "simple pleasures" Singaporeans enjoy is a nice dinner.

Related article:

Top photo via Jane Zhang